Can Silicon Nanostructures Knock Plastic Lenses Out of Cell Phone Cameras?

from IEEE Spectrum

Startup Metalenz says its nanostructures do a better job of guiding light to image sensors than curved plastic lenses.

It’s been a good decade or so for the makers of plastic lenses. In recent years, smartphone manufactures have been adding camera modules, going from one to two to five or more. And each of those camera modules contains several plastic lenses. Over the years, these lenses have changed little, though image processing software has improved a lot, merging images from multiple camera modules into one high quality picture and enabling selective focus and other features.

The glory days of the plastic camera lens, however, may be drawing to a close. At least that’s the hope of Metalenz, a Boston-area startup that officially took its wraps off today.

The company aims to replace plastic lenses with waveguides built out of silicon nanostructures using traditional semiconductor processing techniques. Metalenz’s technology grew out of work done at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Harvard is not the only university laboratory that has investigated metastructures for use as optical wave guides — Columbia, the University of Michigan, and King Abdulla University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia are among the institutions with teams researching the technology. However, Harvard’s team, led by applied physics professor Federico Capasso, was the first group to be able to focus the full spectrum of visible light using a metalens.

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